Wiedmer: Lathers stands ready to flatten all Tennessee foes

Wiedmer: Lathers stands ready to flatten all Tennessee foes

August 16th, 2010 by Mark Wiedmer in Opinion Columns

KNOXVILLE - Determined to protect the embarrassed, Tennessee linebacker Nick Reveiz surrendered no names.

"But Herman (Lathers) put the guy on his (behind)," Reveiz said with a grin on Sunday afternoon. "And it's not often you see a 220-pound linebacker flatten a 330-pound lineman. Especially a starter."

Playing as he has thus far in practice, Lathers could start the season opener against UT-Martin on Sept. 4, just as he did last year's final five games. The redshirt sophomore from Baton Rouge, La., is currently listed as a co-starter with senior Savion Frazier.

"Getting those starts at the end of last season has really helped Herman," said Vols linebackers coach Lance Thompson, a holdover from Lane Kiffin's staff. "And he's healthy now. No more concerns about his blood."

His blood was a major concern for all of last season. There weren't enough platelets in it. Lathers never knew before Thursday or Friday if he'd be able to play, since an extremely low platelet count could prove life threatening if he were injured.

"It was frustrating for everyone," said Lathers, whose spleen was removed over the winter to correct the problem. "The coaches would go most of the week without knowing if it was safe to play me."

Added Thompson, "And there was no way we were going to risk his life over a football game. Herman's health was always the first thing on our minds."

Still, for all the justifiable concern, Lathers never missed a game due to his blood issues. And when both Reveiz and Frazier were gone by the Memphis game, Lathers became the starter at middle linebacker, racking up an impressive 43 tackles over those five starts, including 12 total tackles in both the Vanderbilt and Virginia Tech games.

"Herman has tremendous straight-line speed, he's so explosive," said Thompson. "We've spent a lot of time on his ability to change direction this fall, and I think it's working. He just has great athletic ability and he's not afraid to hit people."

Lathers also isn't afraid to hit the books. A sports management major whose favorite subject is math, he's already made Academic All-SEC and SEC Freshman Honor Roll during his first two years on campus.

"I don't know what I want to do yet," Lathers said. "Maybe become a sports agent, maybe go into coaching. I just know I'll need a degree for whatever I end up doing."

Said Thompson of such disciplined determination: "Herman represents all the qualities you want in a student-athlete."

Especially if you like strong, silent types.

Reveiz remembers working out a couple of times a week with Lathers after practice on linebacker footwork drills during Lathers' first season on campus in the fall of 2008.

"He never said a word to me the whole season," said Reveiz. "Herman would work hard, but he'd never talk. Now we talk all the time. But he keeps to himself if he doesn't know you well."

Said Frazier, "Herman's real quiet until he gets to know you. But once he opens up, he's a funny guy. He'a real funny guy."

Senior defensive end Chris Walker agreed, though he couldn't come up with a specific funny moment. He could, however, come up with a specific play in practice to explain why he believes Lathers is about to become, in Walker's words, "A great player; strong, fast, smart. And he's a better person than he is a player."

But the player stood out the most in this Walker memory: "I won't say who he hit, but when Herman hit him I wasn't sure the guy was going to get up. It's as big a hit as I've seen him have and he's one of those guys who'll knock you on your back then stand over you. If you've got the ball you need to be aware of where Herman is at all times."

Especially now that his blood will allow him to be available at all times.